DENVER -- It's the sound of the old proverbial clock. Our bodies telling us time is running out and like it or not, the ticking clock is a reality women face.
"We actually see a significant increase in genetically abnormal embryos when women hit around 37," said Dr. Eric Surrey, a reproductive endocrinologist at Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine.
Doctors like Surrey and CCRM help women find out about their fertility and just how much time is left on their clock.
"This testing is not designed for the infertile woman. They have a whole different set of tests to do. This is more the woman who perhaps has delayed getting pregnant because of career, or the early part of a relationship where she's not really sure she's ready to get pregnant," Surrey said.
Research shows many women are trying to extend their clocks and putting off childbearing to advance their careers and education. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average age of first-time mothers in 2014 was 26.3, up from 24.9 in the year 2000. Research also shows 86 percent of women ages 40 to 44 are mothers. Now, through a series of tests, doctors can look at a woman's hormone levels and egg count to predict her reproductive potential.
"I always emphasize with patients that this is not completely accurate, it just gives you a sense of where you are on the spectrum," Surrey said.
At age 37, we decided to test my fertility. First, Dr. Surrey asked me a series of questions about my reproductive history. Next, an ultrasound to count my follicles, which is where eggs mature in the ovaries.
"You have 10 follicles on the right side. That's a very high, healthy number," said the practitioner conducting the ultrasound.
Finally, Dr. Surrey and his team did a blood test to measure three hormone levels specifically: The follicle stimulating hormone or FSH, estradiol hormone and the anti-mullerian hormone or AMH. Together they work as a seesaw, but as a woman ages, so too does the quality of her eggs and those hormones begin to change.
"It’s generally with age, but we all also age differently," Surrey said.
The testing, originally intended to measure egg supply in women struggling to get pregnant, is now used for women who are deciding whether to freeze their eggs. Recently the tests have come under fire for being inaccurate and misleading. Dr. Surrey cautions the results are not concrete and places women on a fertility spectrum with other women of the same age.
"We all have a different slope, we all have different rates of aging, of any of our organs," Surrey said.
My test results came back in less than a week. They showed a healthy follicle count but they also showed a slightly higher FSH level and a slightly lower AMH level compared to other women my age.
"It doesn't mean doom and gloom but it does suggest a little lower fertility than someone else your age," Surrey said.
In other words, time is not exactly on my side, making me a perfect candidate for freezing my eggs. The good news, for millions of women whose clocks are also ticking, is that the end may not be as close as once feared.
"What these test results show today is not gonna always be this way because we know fertility declines. So I tell folks, if your tests are normal, you should get rechecked in a year," Surrey said.
The testing costs anywhere between $700 and $800 and is generally not covered by insurance.